Let me spill the beans. I have a defiant child. Only one, really. The other isn’t half the rebel her big sister is. Here I am going to explain how a book I’ve read has helped me understand that my defiant child is a brilliant, positive indictment on my parenting!!
(Do you yearn for a nice crafty post about how I decorated a door knob with the lining of an old shoe? Remember those days? It’s all children, bugs, giving up shampoo, blah, blah these days, eh. You can pop over to Wonderthrift for your quick DIY hit if you like.)
Today’s post comes courtesy of Alfie Kohn who is The Business when it comes to well researched, robust writing on unconditional parenting. I am reading his new book The Myth Of The Spoilt Child – which is a goody if you are sick of everyone bashing on about how we are raising privileged, indulged kids. The only way to spoil a kid is to not love them enough, not the other way round.
The last chapter is called Raising Rebels and has such nuggets as:
“Encourage young people to focus on the needs and rights of others, to examine the practices and institutions that get in the way of making everyone’s lives better, to summon the courage to question what one is told and be willing to break the rules sometimes.”
Here are some reasons I am glad to have a defiant child:
- Pushing boundaries is the perfect, healthy state of a young child. Their primary urge is to explore the world. It is in their make up. Vital to their development. If they can control that urge just to appease the parents then they aren’t being true to their instincts which could mess things up later. Have an “unruly” toddler? Pat your self on the back – you are raising a healthy kid!
- I am reading a book, Flow, which is all about attaining true, deep happiness. The number one way of achieving this is to be purely internally motivated. And the number one way of being truly internally motivated? Through living a childhood where your internal motivation is given freedom to bloom. By undermining children’s internal urges we could be giving them the blue print to be seeking other people’s opinion and approval for the rest of their days. When my daughter does something I don’t want her to do I consider how excellently her internal motivation is being primed and how happy she will be as an adult!!
- There is a weird thing that happens… we want children to be a certain way as children – compliant, basically- but then we really don’t want this in adults. Compliancy is a pretty bland and rubbish attribute in grown ups. So when they hit 18 we want them to switch from compliancy to assertiveness. This is so weird, right? We should respect awesome attributes whether they are in an adult or a child. Even if it means it comes with a huge ‘defiant child” label.
- A child has an innate sense of fairness and I believe we can nurture or scupper this sense. When Ramona objects because she seems something as unfair, I consider how responding to that objection, rather than wishing she would just pipe down, is likely to preserve that sense of fairness. My defiant child is exercising her passion for justice!
- There is also something about children having a right to autonomy. With our arbitrary rules and expectation that children must follow them, there is every chance we are violating some of their key rights. When my daughter asserts her own way over mine, I consider how much more fulfilling of her rights this is. And I believe that, as well as that being a good thing all on its own, a child (yes, even your defiant child who makes your life a little more difficult!) who has their rights respected will be one who respects other people’s rights.
- And finally, I believe that setting up a relationship that is naturally “them against us” or a “battle of wills” is detrimental to a relationship of cooperation. If Ramona does stuff I don’t want her to do I consider how I could help her do the thing she WANTS to do. So that we are in it together, working it out.
Do I get annoyed when she pulls the ink ribbon out of my awesome new vintage typewrite? (What, yes, I totally did need a new vintage typewriter.) I do. I explain respectfully that pulling the ribbon out will break it and I ask her not to do. But she keeps doing it. And I can understand why- what a jolly good time! Have you ever pulled the ribbon out of a typewriter? So satisfying. So I can see this isn’t an urge that is going to go anywhere, so instead we put the typewriter away until we can put it out in a less tempting, higher spot. And meanwhile I figure out how to find something that will meet that urge to just pull and explore and dismantle things. It is quite a scientific urge, really.
Of course, sometimes I get mad. And I think ARGH WHY CAN’T MY KIDS JUST DO AS THEIR WISE OLD MOTHER SAYS FOR ONCE IN THEIR TINY LIIIIVVVVES!!!!! And then I break off a line of chocolate and have a sit and remind myself of all the reasons I am glad they don’t. Hehehehehe.
“In my experience, most parents sincerely want their children to be assertive, independent thinkers who are unafraid to stand their ground… with their peers. When a child demonstrates the identical sort of courage in interactions with them it is a different story! The truth is if we want children to be able to resist peer pressure and grow into principled and brave adults, we have to actively welcome their questioning and being assertive with us.“